iTunes at the Airport Apple Store

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As Steve Jobs showed off the new Palo Alto mini Apple Store, Apple retail VP Ron Johnson made an interesting observation. He pointed out that the new store design was the same size as retail outlets in airports, and even mentioned San Francisco International Airport as a possible future destination for one of these mini stores. The Apple product mentioned in this context: the iPod.

And when you think about it, that’s a fascinating idea. Let’s say you have same time to kill before a long flight, and you’re wandering around the airport. You spy an Apple store, and before you know it you’re considering how great it would be to have an iPod to listen to on the plane.

There’s only one problem: iPods come empty. You’ve got to download music or rip it off of a CD in order to fill your iPod with good stuff. Why buy an empty iPod before a flight?

The answer is, don’t keep it empty. Meaning, if Apple’s going to start selling iPods in airports, it needs to create some sort of kiosk to allow people to buy music from the iTunes Music Store and load it on their iPods as they stand within the store.

With these new mini stores, Apple has already shown the ability to create technological innovations in order to serve its mission: all the mini stores contain two touch-screen kiosks to let customers scan and pay for products with a credit card without waiting for a clerk.

So imagine a touch-screen-based system running a modified version of iTunes, one that lets you swipe your credit card or enter the code from a gift card you just purchased at the store along with your iPod. You enter in your e-mail address to create an account (unless you’ve already got an iTunes, account, in which case you’d just log yourself in). Then you plug in your iPod and browse the store, buying songs to take on your trip. The kiosk downloads the files directly to your iPod. And since Apple doesn’t let you copy music from the iPod back to your iTunes library, the kiosk might also copy the files as data to the hard drive portion of the iPod, or burn a CD containing the protected music files on it, or even upload them to your iDisk if you’ve got one.

The great thing about this idea is, it’s not just for new iPod buyers. If you’re a hard-core iPod user and your music library is kind of stale, why not pop into the airport Apple Store and download the latest Jet album before jetting to 30,000 feet?

It just makes too much sense to me. Let’s hope that Apple’s thinking the same thing.

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